ON TUESDAY evening, as the Indian football team was getting ready for their match in the FIFA World Cup 2018 Qualifying group against Iran in Bengaluru, Chandigarh footballer 22-year-old Gurpreet Singh Sandhu’s parents DSP Tejinder Singh Sandhu and SHO Harjit Kaur were busy attending the department meetings for the preparations of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Chandigarh later this week. It was for the first time that the 6’6” tall goalkeeper was named in the starting line-up for the Indian team in his short four-match career for the Indian senior team, and the Sandhu family in Mohali was eager not to miss the action.
Gurpreet, who currently also plays for Norwegian club Stabaek FC, was named in the squad along with Subrata Paul but coach Stephen Constantine gave Gurpreet the final nod. Even though the 155 ranked Indian team lost the match 0-3 to 40th ranked Iran, it was a huge step in Gurpreet’s international career.
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“It was a huge moment for all of us as it was for the first time that he was named in the starting line-up. I had my meeting with officers from the Chandigarh Police department all day for the preparation of the PM’s visit to Chandigarh and missed the initial minutes of the match. But Gurpreet was very excited about the match last night and called us in the morning as well. All his former teammates in Chandigarh called us to congratulate us in the evening,” said Harjit Kaur Sandhu, who is currently posted as Station House Officer, Women’s Police Station, Sector 17.
A lanky lad, Gurpreet started playing football when he was in fifth standard at St Stephen’s School, Sector 45, under coaches Bhupinder Singh and Surender. While his father was an ardent cricket fan, Gurpreet took up goalkeeping in football and soon made it to the Indian U-17 football team which took part in U-17 World Cup Qualifiers held in Uzbekistan, followed by featuring in U-19 World Cup qualifiers.
Last year, Gurpreet became the first Indian football player since 1936 after Mohammed Salim to play for a top division European Club when he signed a three-year contract with Norwegian club Stabaek FC. “It was a tough decision for the family but it was for his good. It was a huge achievement considering the fact that no Indian player had featured for a top European club since 1936,” said Gurpreet’s mother Harjit Kaur Sandhu.
“Residing in Oslo had its own challenges. The temperature would sometimes be -40 C and we would ask him to buy enough jackets. Sometimes he would call in the middle of the night to ask about recipes of pulao and rajmah. Getting his favourite food was the priority for him and now he can cook his own food efficiently. Last time, when he was in India, he came to Chandigarh for just one night and this time, he is flying back tomorrow from Bengaluru,” said the footballer’s mother.
The goalkeeper got his maiden call-up to the Indian senior team against Nepal in FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifiers earlier this year. Sitting on the bench in the match, Gurpreet followed that up with substitute performance against Oman and Guam early this year. With the Indian team playing in five more matches in the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifiers in the next seven months, Gurpreet is expected to be called up by national coach Constantine.
“Playing for full 90 minutes will boost his confidence. And spending time with the national team with players like Sunil Chetrri and others would help him understand the team better. The Indian team will play five matches in the coming months till March next year and it will be a tough challenge for Gurpreet. He would leave for Norway tomorrow and for the next 20 days, his focus would be Stabaek FC,” said Gurpreet’s father Tejinder Singh Sandhu.